Dwarves’ ability to sniff out minerals and money far surpassed the elves. Hence, the dwarves paid particular attention to the mineral that could make them money. Last time, Francis tricked me. Nevertheless, he was a businessman when it boiled down to it; there was no way he’d let a good opportunity slip through his hands. To add, he just wanted to avoid me. The imperial capital wasn’t under my jurisdiction, so he was devoid of worry.
As soon as I went down, the dwarves stopped laughing and speaking and fixed their gazes on me because it was rare for a human to walk into their den. One of them went hell for leather to the back door.
“Francis, what are you doing? Are you that unhappy to see an old friend? We’re businessmen; we get over things quickly. I have something to talk to you about.”
Francis halted in his tracks and slowly turned back around, tugging the corners of his lips up awkwardly.
I squeezed through the crowd of dwarves to reach him. I bent over to whisper in his ear, “Francis, I know what business you’re currently in. If possible, can you treat me to a drink?”
As the dwarves didn’t see any conflict, they resumed drinking. I could tell that they considered it boring that Francis and I didn’t get into a physical altercation. Francis, on the other hand, awkwardly and nervously sat down at an empty table with me. With his voice muffled, he asserted, “What are you planning now? It’s already been so long, and I didn’t take the lease. What do you want now?! I also heard you’re bankrupt; I can’t help you with that! Your threats won’t fly with me.”
“What are you saying? Didn’t I just say I already put it behind me? It’s absolutely normal for us to trick each other in business. I’ve gotten used to that long ago. You’re correct that I’m bankrupt, though. That’s why I need your help,” I replied. Voice serious, I elaborated, “I learnt from a lady-in-waiting in the imperial palace that there seems to be a carved stone being used as jewellery and explosively popular in the imperial capital at the moment. The stone jewellery, apparently, bring good luck and bliss, consequently sending its worth into the ether. That’s why lots of women want one; even the ladies-in-waiting in the imperial palace want one. Surely you want to get involved with it.”
“Indeed. I suggest you quit while you’re ahead, having said that. The majority of the reserves are now in Edward’s hands. Moreover, it’s poor timing for you to jump on board as the cost is too high.”
“And that’s why it’s fine as long as I have more stones in reserve, correct?”
Whoever monopolised the stone market had the right to set the price. Whoever could set the price profited the most. At the moment, Edward was the man with the most stones. He, therefore, was empowered to manipulate the price on whims if his heart desired. As long as the women acted coquettish, the price would continue to appreciate. When he began to sell them, however, it would give the impression that the stones lost their value. As a result, lots of others would follow suit and abandon their stones. With a saturated market, they wouldn’t be able to sell them for a good price. In fact, the price would plummet rapidly. Besides Edward, the majority would definitely have sleepless nights.
“Correct. We are also searching for them. Sadly, the people claimed that they once buried the dead and worshipped God. They never told us anything else. The North is your territory, so we dwarves can’t go there to search for them. Humanity didn’t find anything in the North, either. All that can be found now are the stones those people brought. On the flipside, we’re also lucky the people in the North are awaiting your return. They’re loyal people, I tell you.”
From what I gathered, Francis had hit a wall despite his best efforts.
“That’s what I came to talk to you about. You noticed that they were loyal to me, correct? And, I happen to be right in front of you.” I put the necklace and lease on the table then expanded, “See this? Have you seen a stone this big before? These stones are literally littered in the place they came from, and it’s the simplest handcraft to them. So, if you can find the stones, you’ll be the man with the most stones, allowing you to control the price of the stones. In turn, you’ll be able to earn an incredible amount of money. On top of that, this is the lease to the place they lived. This lease is legally effective. I haven’t acknowledged bankruptcy yet, which means the land won’t be auctioned yet. You follow?”
Perhaps Francis was somewhat baffled after drinking too much. Perhaps the news came too sudden for him to process. This was the moment patience and silence decided the victor.
Dwarves’ wine was strong, yet my mind felt slightly clearer after a cup, as a matter of fact. After a long silence, Francis went to take the lease, but I slammed my hand on it: “The initial price is no longer enough. Francis, you know that I’m bankrupt. If you want the lease, you’re going to have to pay more.”
Francis was also cognizant of the fact that the previous price was definitely not enough: “How much do you want?’
“Ten thousand. I want ten thousand gold coins. Right now, Edward can claim he has one million gold coins. Let’s say you know the place where the stones are: would you be limited to just one million? Even ten thousand gold coins is a cheap price for it.”
“But ten thousand gold coins is a stretching it too far for me right now. I can’t afford it,” protested Francis, showing the angst I was digging for.
Really, ten thousand gold coins wasn’t much, though that was to future Francis. At the moment, it was a big sum for him. If he could find the place, or rather, with my lease and letter in hand, the dwarves would be able to find the place without a doubt. By then, one million gold coins would be spare change. As long as they pleased, the dwarves could control the sales and price; men would find all means of making money for a woman’s smile.
“How much do you have now?”
I didn’t miss the tension in his jaws for the split second telling he, indeed, only had five thousand. Needless to say, ten thousand and five thousand gold coins were the same to me because I couldn’t repay either sum. My plan wasn’t just to repay my debt but to completely, utterly, absolutely crush Edward. Last time, I reaped what I sowed. This time, Edward had to die. No alternative available. You lay your hands on my daughter, and I’ll make sure you continue paying in your afterlife.
“I’ll take five thousand, then. I want cash. The remaining five thousand will be my investment in your business. Then, I’ll wait for my share of the earnings. That’s enough for you to trust me, right? We’re now on the same boat. If you win, I win, too. With that said, I won’t earn, either, if the price plummets. I desperately need money now. Otherwise, I’ll go bankrupt. I can only earn if you do.”
The cornerstone statement was still applicable: to be able to monopolise it, news must be withheld. If everyone knew the dwarves manipulated the stones’ price, they would lose their value. Once I divulged the location to others, the dwarves would lose their right to a voice. The people would realise what was happening and not fall for the bait. As such, Francis needed to trust that I wouldn’t spill the beans. So accordingly, I tied us together, thereby creating a situation where we either profited together or fell together, implying that I wouldn’t betray him.
Francis pulled over a parchment and declared, “Deal!”
After confirming that the contract on the parchment was fine, we made two copies and signed them. I handed the lease and letter to the Anks people to Francis. He couldn’t even wait until tomorrow; he wanted to get going right away. Business opportunities that come all of a sudden must be seized and capitalised on. For a businessman, it was a business that could climbs tens of thousands or fall tens of thousands within minutes.
I received the five thousand gold coins invoice that could exchange for five thousand gold coins at the bank, but I couldn’t go. If I did, the five thousand would just be taken. To circumvent that, I had Francis write Ross’ name. I needed Ross, who I brought along, for the next phase of my plan.
The two of us had a toast to celebrate the establishment of our contract.
“You’ve changed, Tarak. I remember you didn’t drink before. How come you’re now drinking our wine as if it’s nothing?”
“Did something happen to Veirya?”
Should I say Francis’ intuition was pretty good? I pretended I never heard him and left.
“Get your act together! Don’t let Veirya love you for nothing!”
“I know,” I responded, thinking, “I know that, obviously. I can’t let Veirya down. She loves me. Therefore, I must return to her side no matter what.”
Family is family. Edward reminded me that, even if I left them, people would still come after them, so it was up to me to protect them. The only one who could lie to them was me. Nobody else is allowed to deceive them.
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